By Winston Shi
One of the best parts about the college football offseason (sigh) is that you get to talk about all sorts of different things. (Well, when I mean “best,” I mean “something that doesn’t make me outright want to cry.) And one of the best parts about talking about different things is that it’s simply a lot of fun. That’s right…welcome to Winston Shi’s Hot Takes from Around the Country.
Where in the world is David Shaw?
There’s not much news in the Stanford football world right now, unless you’re a recruiting junkie, but let’s look at what might happen in the coming year. I like Stanford’s talent situation as a whole. Stanford rarely loses players to early draft entries, transfers or medical retirements, so the Cardinal can’t recruit as many players as most elite teams. Add an extra six recruits to Stanford every year and the Cardinal would likely be viewed as a top-12 recruiter. The problem is that this year, the almost incomprehensibly small recruiting class of 2013 (just 12 scholarship recruits!) needs to lead the team. The talent is there, but with few seniors projected to start next year, this is a young, young group.
But it’s still the Stanford Cardinal, reigning Rose Bowl champs, and winners of three out of the last four conference championships. I see promising backups coming up on the offensive line and QB, wonderfully deep offensive skill talent returning, a renewed secondary and an utterly fearsome pass rush. I see a solid team that has the potential to be great if new players step up in the trenches.
How about the schedule – that old bugbear of many a championship run? Put simply, it might be the dreaded “away schedule” (Oregon, ND, UCLA, Washington and Cal away), but things shape up pretty well. Looking at the Pac-12 North, I expect Oregon to be good but Mark Helfrich’s recruiting strategy (he’s signed more quarterbacks in one year than Stanford does in four) belies his offense’s dependence on an elite triggerman. Washington is promising but the Huskies are always promising – I will take them seriously when they show up. Cal has got to take a step back – they lose nearly all their production on offense. Washington State will be good, but its vaunted offense is also exactly the kind of offense that Stanford’s defense is built to stop. Oregon State is a ways away from challenging Stanford. USC and UCLA are breaking in a ton of new coaches.
Out of conference, Notre Dame looks downright terrifying, and if there is a weakness in a defense, Bill Snyder will find it. Stanford gets Colorado and Arizona from the South next year and these are about as favorable a set of matchups as you could possibly expect. Nine wins is reasonable, with a good shot at 10 – and if 10 wins is a reloading season, then Stanford’s as consistent as any team outside Tuscaloosa and Tallahassee.
Another year of tanking
The only thing I really have to say about this Lakers season is that the Lakers are going to continue to tank through 2016-17, because if the Lakers keep their 2017 draft pick (that is, they get a top-3 pick), they get to keep their 2019 first-rounder as well instead of giving it to Orlando. If they lose their 2017 pick, Orlando gets their 2019 first-rounder.
So it’s shaping up to be another season where I want the Lakers to lose 80 games (beating Boston twice, obviously), and I won’t be able to bear watching any of it.
Silly season in Chavez Ravine
When Dodgers personnel guru Andrew Friedman took over the Boys in Blue, he knew that his seemingly endless money pit would be tempered by the gigantic medium-term obligations of the last five years – deferred money to players like Manny Ramirez, compensatory payments for guys like Matt Kemp and gargantuan contracts to now-bench players. He has done a fine job of contending in the short term while paying off a lot of these debts.
The Dodgers payroll – more of a $200 million payroll in reality than the $300 million team that grabbed all the headlines – will be ready to roll by 2018. But I’m not sure the 2016 team is a contender without Zack Greinke. And I’m not sure that Greinke would have considered staying in Los Angeles without Friedman trading way Yasiel Puig, one of the few Dodgers players with a team-friendly contract. It’s disheartening to see Greinke go, but that was only to be expected.
So the Rams are back. Well.
I wrote a column on the Rams potentially coming back a couple years ago in which I conceded that I didn’t actually care if the NFL returned to Los Angeles. I still believe this, but now that it’s actually happened, I’ll admit that it’s nice to have them back. It’s better to have them than not.
With this in mind, I feel guilty – as I expected – about taking another city’s team, and it’s not a particularly reassuring comfort that LA used to have the Rams in the first place. My hand-wringing about the Rams seems a little silly, however, when the Brooklyn Dodgers had far greater ties to their fanbase – and yet I cheer for the Dodgers anyway. That’s how sports work sometimes.
Andrew Mather had a solid take on the emotional component of the Rams yesterday, so I won’t go too much into that. I do find it a little surprising that Stan Kroenke chose to put the stadium in South Central when the Rams are more traditionally identified with Orange County, but Hollywood Park is a good location and it’s close to Westwood, Malibu and Beverly Hills. We know as TV technology continues to improve, it’s increasingly popular for sports teams to cater the in-game stadium experience to the very rich. And while Newport Beach has a ton of money, the Rams can make a lot more money by making inroads into West LA.
What’s interesting however, is that out of the NFL’s 31 stadiums, all but three are either modern or about to be replaced, classic and heavily renovated (think Lambeau or Arrowhead), or a decade old and recently upgraded. Only two relics of the cookie-cutter multipurpose stadium era are left, and they both tried to move to LA. Washington’s FedEx Field is also heavily criticized, but the point is that the NFL owners are happy.
That’s what I want to leave you with. The NFL didn’t OK the Rams move to LA out of the goodness of their hearts (well, maybe Jerry Jones’ heart, but that’s about it). The NFL OK-ed the move because they’d milked LA dry. It’s how they roll. If they can get away with it, more power to them. That’s how pro sports work these days. There’s tanking. There’s cash grabs. And while college teams make a lot of cash grabs of their own, the pro sports teams close to my heart are actually a big part of why I like college football so much.
Still mourning the death of Grantland, Winston Shi decided to channel his inner Bill Simmons for his column this week. His editors wanted to call it “The W.S. Report,” but it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. If you have a better name, run it by Winston at wshi94 ‘at’ stanford.edu.